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December 14, 2012

International Aid

Help is Available for Students Interested in Global Experiences

By Abby Simmons

For the first time in 15 years, Adelaide Agyemang (A/DC'14) went home last summer.

Born in Kumasi, Ghana, Agyemang and her family immigrated to New Jersey when she was four years old. Travel costs prevented her seven-member family from visiting their relatives.

Financial resources also presented challenges for trustee Larry Jennings Jr. (S'84, TPR'87), who worked throughout his time at CMU to supplement his financial aid package. It was only after launching a successful career in the financial sector that he was able to travel internationally.

Jennings observed the transformational experience his youngest daughter, June, had during a trip to India. Drawing on that trip and Pittsburgh writer David McCullough's book "Brave Companions," he and his wife, Katherine, established the Jennings Brave Family Companions Fund through the Undergraduate Research Office (URO). The fund annually provides four to 10 sophomores and juniors up to $6,000 each to experience the cultural and socio-economic issues facing a developing country. Preference is given to students who have demonstrated financial need and/or have not traveled abroad previously, along with several other criteria.

"International experiences can shape your thinking, help you with graduate school and your direction in life," Jennings said to 2012 recipients at a recent lunch.

Before departing, Agyemang, a recipient of Jennings' generosity, wrote in her blog, "As a child, I wanted to be an all-American girl more than I wanted to be a faerie, a princess, a witch, or a knight.... I am often terrified that my family in Ghana will reject my Westernized self with the same cold finality that I abandoned them with when I was younger."

Agyemang's grandfather and three uncles eased her apprehensions at the airport when they draped a cloth over her shoulders with "Akwaaba," the Twi word for "welcome," on it. They opened their homes to her, and she observed village life from the vantage point of her aunts' grocery store.

Agyemang, a sophomore in art and philosophy, also took courses in government and politics, African storytelling and service learning at the University of Ghana at Legon. Her service-learning course included volunteer work at a nongovernmental organization that taught Ghanaians how to develop small businesses.

"This experience helped me to decide that I want to integrate public policy and art into my career," Agyemang said.

Recipients of Brave Family Companions funding also receive a Small Undergraduate Research Grant. Agyemang is working with History Department Professor Edda Fields-Black to develop a performance art piece based on African folk tales for the Meeting of the Minds undergraduate research symposium on May 8.

Helping Students To Obtain Funding

The Office of International Education (OIE) reports that 154 undergraduate and graduate students traveled abroad last summer, accounting for approximately 27 percent of all students who completed international experiences during the 2011-2012 academic year.

Institutional, state and federal financial aid is generally not applicable to summer study abroad, so finding other funding sources is a necessity for many students.

"Chris Menand and I encourage students to explore as many funding sources as possible," said Jaycie King, coordinator of study abroad and international programs. "We provide numerous resources on OIE's website and talk with students about opportunities that may work well for them."

In addition to the Brave Family Companions Fund, the URO coordinates the International Small Undergraduate Research Grant program. Students may apply for up to $500 in materials and supplies for conducting research abroad.

Numerous alumni have endowed college- or major-specific study abroad scholarships, while some colleges and schools sponsor students' international travel. Last summer, 52 students received $250 to $900 each through the Tartans Abroad Fund, to which any undergraduate student can apply for study, work, volunteer, research or special projects. Tartans Abroad also supports student groups completing short-term international travel.

"The number of applications to Tartans Abroad has increased over the past several years," King said. "That makes financial support from OIE, the dean of Student Affairs, vice provost for education, colleges and academic departments more important each year to sustain this opportunity."


Agyemang's blog: